Week 5: Institutional Talk


Whenever I greet someone, I keep in mind that how I introduce myself will shape the mood and direction of the conversation. The way in which I greet people is very casual and this remains the case whether that person is a close friend, relative, work colleague or complete stranger. I often open with ‘Hey, how are you?’ or ‘Hey, what have you been up to?’. This is a friendly greeting and I find it to be appropriate in most situations. I let the other person initiate whether there is physical contact such as a hug or handshake.

If I am meeting someone for the first time, I will usually close the conversation by saying ‘it was nice meeting you’. For people I already know, I tend to say ‘see you later’. This does not necessarily mean I will be seeing them soon after, it is just a catchphrase I have come to use out of habit. A situation I always find uncomfortable is going in for a hug with someone who I have known for some time, yet not very well – such as a distant relative. An example of this situation occurred a few weeks ago when visiting my boyfriend’s sister for the weekend. She leant in for a hug and also went to kiss my cheek. Unaware of this, I leant in for the hug with my face to hers and we almost kissed. We both found this funny, as did the rest of the people in the room. I am generally an out-going and humorous person which means that I am rarely stuck in awkward social situations. I regularly use humour to overcome uncomfortable moments as they emerge.


When entering any conversation, people often have pre-existing expectations of how the course of discussion is going to unfold (Hoffman 2013).

This association, in which conversation is impacted and somewhat shaped by context, is known as ‘institutional talk’ (Ames 2016). Institutional talk makes the subjects of a conversation or interview less likely to become confused or thrown off by what the other is saying. This is because the participant can use previous knowledge of the context and setting as a basis for what to expect (Ames 2016). Institutional talk can also be considered as conversation that is work or institution related (Ames 2016).

A way of identifying where institutional talk exists is by analysing two interviews that are executed differently. One is a news interview involving a politician and the other is an entertainment interview involving people who are of human interest.

There is contrast between the questions that are asked in the interviews and the responses they aim to provoke in the interviews (Ames 2016).

Italian Nonna leaves Karl Stefanovic in hysterics after video of her trying to talk Apple’s Siri goes viral

In an interview on the Today Show with a mother and son who went viral on social media, it is clear that the sole purpose of the segment is to achieve humour among its audience. On the other hand, an interview by the ABC with politician Clive Palmer evidently aims to provide its audience with answers to hard questions in relation to parliament.

The atmosphere on the Today show is relaxed and the hosts appear laid-back, introducing the interviewees with ‘good morning, you two’. After a very friendly greeting, the host begins asking light questions that do not challenge the interviewees in any way. The host ask questions such as the following:

‘What is your understanding of the term viral? It must mean something different to you.’

‘You must have thought it (the video) was going to be interesting. Did you think it would be so interesting?’

‘You are Italian. What’s the secret to great pasta?’

These questions do not appear to have required much planning and are influenced by the guests’ responses. Yet, this conversation structure meets the expectations of viewer’s who watch entertainment interviews. There is less talk about the institution and more conversation based on the guests.

Humour was evident and prominent throughout the entire interview. Both the hosts and guests can be heard laughing during the segment as friendly banter and jokes are carried out. While humour is prominent throughout this interview, there is no conflict between all participants as the chat runs smoothly. The interview also concludes on a humorous note as the guest blows kisses to the host before leaving.

ABC Capital Hill – Clive Palmer pre 2015 Budget interview

Contrary the Today Show, the ABC’s interview with Clive Palmer appears to be formal and predisposed. Palmer is quickly addressed rather than greeted, with questions regarding how he is feeling or if he is happy to be on the show. The questions Palmer is asked have been prepared and the host includes quotes and other sources to introduce each question. The host also refers to a physical copy of the questions, reinforcing that the interview is planned. The following is an example of the type of questions presented by the host:

‘The prime minister also covered off stronger prohibitions to use his words “on vilifying, intimidating or inciting hatred”.’ ‘How does that stand against the free speech ethos?’

Unlike the Today Show’s questions, this puts the guest on the spot and challenges Palmer to develop an answer that will be received and criticised more crucially than the responses given in the entertainment interview.

There is no humour evident in this interview as the host asks hard question that receive serious answers. However, there is slight conflict evident towards the end of the segment as both participants speak over each other. There was also potential for conflict throughout the entire conversation, given the fiery nature of the questions that are given. In the same fashion that the interview started, it concluded in a formal manner as the host ends with ‘alright, Clive Palmer, thank you’.

By comparing the two types of interviews, it is evident how differently conversations are affected by the context. Talk shows such as the Today show are entertainment orientated and aim to be fun and trigger humour (Ilie 2001). News shows exhibit debate and more commonly poses the risk of conflicting situations, especially when there is the involvement of politics (Ilie 2001). The implausible moments in talk shows that spur laughter are expected, although, are not always planned (Ilie 2001). However, news shows such as the ABC’s interview with Palmer are highly planned and prepared as they are received more seriously by the audience (Hoffman 2013).


Far-removed from the common forms of institutional interaction, exists political speeches (Heritage & Clayman 2010). While many speeches are unscripted and off the cuff, a great level of planning and research goes in to those that aim to achieve maximum effectiveness, such as maiden speeches (Heritage & Clayman 2010). Listed below are key points outlined by Heritage & Clayman (2010) that are to be considered and incorporated when writing a maiden speech:

  1. Key points and elements of the speech should be made apparent to the audience through the sentences leading up to them. These sentences should be structured to build anticipation (Heritage & Clayman 2010 p.263). This way the vital information can be most effectively received and recognised by the audience
  2. The writing should express opinions and values that are shared throughout all ends of the audience and not just among certain groups (Heritage & Clayman 2010 p.265).
  3. Information is made prominent when the audience are able to emphasize through the use of ‘rhythm, stress, intonation, and gesture’ (Heritage & Clayman 2010, p. 266). Therefore, when developing a speech, the writer should consider how the speech will be projected on top of how it sounds on paper.
  4. Rhetorical devices can be included to persuade the audience such as contrasting negative statements beside positive statements (Heritage & Clayman 2010, p. 267). An example of this is ‘I will not be a good leader. I will be the best leader that there ever was’ in which the negative statement is counterbalanced by a positive statement (Heritage & Clayman 2010, p.267).
  5. There are different types of contrast that can be utilised in a speech (Heritage & Clayman 2010, p.268), such as:
  • Contradictions – ‘not this but that’
  • Comparisons – ‘more this than that’
  • Opposites – ‘black or white’
  • Phrase reversals – ‘not what your people can do, what you can do for your people’
  1. Contrasted sentences are far more likely to receive a response from the audience than non-formatted sentences in a speech (Heritage & Clayman 2010, p.269).
  2. Lists are used to build emphasis through repetition and work most effectively in engaging the audience when consisting of three parts (Heritage & Clayman 2010, p.269).
  3. Problem-solving within the speech effectively engages the audience (Heritage & Clayman 2010, p.271). Puzzling the audience triggers thought and places emphasis on the solution (Heritage & Clayman 2010, p.271).
  4. Contrast and lists can be combined wherein the third part of this list contrasts the previous two or all three contrasts one and other (Heritage & Clayman 2010, p.272). Problem-solving can also be included in this combination. This is another way of creating emphasis in the speech and engaging the audience.
  5. If a response by the audience is not initially achieved, the speaker may re-deliver the previous point (Heritage & Clayman 2010, p.273).



Ames, K 2016, COMM12033, Speech & Script: Institutional Talk, CQU, Rockhampton, accessed 5 April 2016, https://moodle.cqu.edu.au/pluginfile.php/293235/mod_resource/content/5/COMM12033_Week5_Mod.pdf

Heritage, J., & Clayman, S. (2010). Talk in action: Interactions, identities and institutions, Interaction en Masse. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hoffman, L, 2013, ‘Political interviews: examining perceived media bias and effects across TV entertainment formats, International Journal of Communication’, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 471, accessed 29 April 2016, http://vs7pm8vz2k.search.serialssolutions.com.ezproxy.cqu.edu.au/?sid=36520&genre=article&issn=19328036&title=International%20Journal%20of%20Communication%20%2819328036%29&atitle=Political%20Interviews%3A%20Examining%20Perceived%20Media%20Bias%20and%20Effects%20Across%20TV%20Entertainment%20Formats.&author=HOFFMAN%2C%20LINDSAY&authors=HOFFMAN%2C%20LINDSAY&date=20130101&volume=7&issue=&spage=471

Ilie, C, 2001, ‘Semi-institutional discourse: The case of talk shows,Journal of Pragmatics’, vol. 33, no. 7, pp. 1-7, accessed 25 April 2016, http://ac.els-cdn.com.ezproxy.cqu.edu.au/S0378216699001332/1-s2.0-S0378216699001332-main.pdf?_tid=0bf47e90-1585-11e6-ba33-00000aab0f6c&acdnat=1462757365_a7d9459a2c035acaa5616f5656970f3a


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